From Iceland — Elections 2016: What Will Iceland's Next Government Be?

Elections 2016: What Will Iceland’s Next Government Be?

Published October 31, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Now that Iceland has voted and the results are in, the big question before us now is: what kind of ruling coalition do we get now? The answer is more complicated than it seems.

As reported, the results of last Saturday’s elections put the Independence Party on top, going from 19 MPs to 21 in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament. At the same time, the Left-Greens went from 7 MPs to 10 MPs; the Pirate Party went from 3 MPs to 10 MPs; and the Restoration Party went from 0 to 7 MPs. The biggest losers from the elections were the Progressives, who saw their numbers halved, and the Social Democrats, who went from 9 MPs to 3 MPs. Bright Future also took a hit late in the night when the final votes were counted, going from 6 MPs to 4 MPs.

These results are significant, in that they indicate what kind of ruling coalition we might get. However, having the most seats in parliament does not necessarily mean President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson will grant that party the mandate to form a coalition – the coalition leader can also be chosen based on how much they increased. For example, while the Independence Party is the largest party, they only increased by two seats. Meanwhile, the Pirates more than tripled themselves, the Left-Greens increased significantly, and the Restoration Party broke precedent as a new party by winning 7 seats on their first run for parliament; normally, new parties only win three or four seats their first time around.

As such, as the different party leaders meet today with the President to talk about possible coalitions, here are some possible ruling coalitions that may form. Bear in mind that some of these possibilities are more likely than others:

1. Independence Party + Progressive Party + Restoration Party

This right-wing coalition would have 36 seats, giving them a comfortable majority. However, Restoration Party chairperson Benedikt Jóhannesson has ruled out working with both of these parties, and the pummeling the Progressives took would make inviting them into a ruling coalition a risky move, and one likely to spark concerted public protest.

2. Independence Party + Restoration Party + Bright Future

This is a right-wing coalition that would lean more towards to the centre, but a 32-seat majority is razor-thin, and prone to cause internal conflicts within the coalition. If anyone mutinied for another party, the majority would fall apart as well.

3. Pirate Party + Restoration Party + Left-Greens (+ Social Democrats + Bright Future)

Given the fact that these first three parties were the most successful in terms of increasing their numbers of seats, there is a case that can be made that the popular mandate goes to these parties. The Social Democrats and Bright Future, while not formally a part of this coalition, could nonetheless be in place to “defend” the coalition. This is not an unheard of affair in Icelandic politics, but it would also be a little unwieldy. That said, both the Left-Greens and the Pirates support this idea, and the Restoration Party aren’t ruling it out at least.

4. Independence Party + Restoration Party + Left-Greens/Pirate Party

This coalition would have a very solid majority, would run the spectrum from left to right, and would more accurately reflect the popular mandate. However, any kind of ruling alliance between the Independence Party and the Left-Greens would likely alienate a lot of Left-Green voters; its stability would depend entirely in assuaging them. The same could definitely be said about the Pirate Party joining this coalition – many of their voters and even some of their candidates have publicly ruled out cooperating with the Independence Party.

5. National government

In this scenario, there is no ruling coalition nor opposition; rather, all parties share power and must reach an agreement between them all on any legislation they intend to pass. This is an unusual situation in Icelandic politics, but is also a more equitable one than an attempt at forming a coalition that everyone can be happy with.

Ultimately, the decision is up to President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. As Iceland’s head of state, he has the power to grant one party the mandate to form a ruling coalition. As the last votes are still trickling in, that mandate might not be given for a few days yet.

The turnout has been the worst in Icelandic history, at 79.2%.

The last Gallup poll before the elections showed the Independence Party overtaking the Pirate Party, while the Left-Greens and the Restoration Party appeared to be on their way up, as the Social Democrats and Bright Future dropped in support.

The campaign itself has been colorful, and certainly memorable, and the prospect of a Pirate Party takeover attracted the attention of the international media.

Finally, the most memorable moment from election night undoubtedly took place when Minister of Health Kristján Þór Júlíusson was being interviewed live at the Independence Party’s election offices. At that moment, a man interrupted the interview to ask the camera, “Why does no one remember the financial crash and [offshore tax shelter] Tortola? Why are you feeding the bird of prey?”, in reference to the symbol of the Independence Party, the falcon:


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